Thursday Jun 8, 2023
Thursday Jun 8, 2023

The struggles of a vendor in Kalimati

Kalimati Fruits and Vegetable Market is important for the supply of food in the valley, yet little to no thought is given to the ones who work there

2022 Mar 22, 16:42, Kathmandu
A customer at the Kalimati market. (Photo: Kalimati vegetable market/Facebook)

Imagine having to wake up at 3 in the morning to reach your job at the local fruits and vegetable market! You do not get a chance to have a glass of water, let alone breakfast. When you get there, you see a line of trucks entering, each transporting sacks and sacks of fruits and vegetables. One of the trucks stops at your stall and offloads the items you had requested. Even after that, you have to check the quality of the fruits and vegetables, then decide which ones can be sold. By the time your stall is fully set up, your stomach is growling but you still can’t take a break, because the first customers have just made their way to your stall.

An overview of the Kalimati market. (Photo: Kalimati Fruits and Vegetable Market Development Board)
An overview of the Kalimati market. (Photo: Kalimati Fruits and Vegetable Market Development Board)

This is a normal day in the life of Jaiprakash Bajracharya and many other vendors who work at Kalimati.

The market was set up in 1986 by the Government of Nepal and has since been critical in meeting the demands of fruits and vegetables within the Kathmandu Valley. Presently, the market supplies 60 to 70 per cent of the people within the valley. From the common people to external wholesale retailers to even the most prestigious restaurants and hotels, the market has been the backbone in the supply chain of fruits and vegetables, at the heart of which is vendors like Bajracharya.

Nepal has always labelled itself as being an agricultural country and farmers being the driving force of the nation. However, vendors like Bajracharya play an equally important role in the supply chain. They understand how they are the glue that holds the entire system in place.

“I have been in this business for almost 20 years now,” he says. “I understand how important this all is. All vendors, including myself, know that being absent here for a day can cause chaos in each house. If we don’t sell for one day, then almost half of the valley will be hungry.”

Vendors at the Kalimati market. (Photo: Kalimati Fruits and Vegetable Market Development Board)
Vendors at the Kalimati market. (Photo: Kalimati Fruits and Vegetable Market Development Board)

Although such a situation has not arisen yet, Bajracharya recalls two instances when the business was hit badly

“The first time we had a real shortage of products was in 2015, during the blockade at the border,” he says. “For a start, we get quite a variety of fruits and vegetables from India. But we also weren’t able to transport the products grown in Nepal either. This was because of the fuel shortage, and so we had to ration the resources.

“Similarly, the past two years have been a struggle for everyone in the business. Even though we were allowed to keep our business open in the mornings, it was still a struggle. Curfew would be imposed overnight, so we weren’t able to be present during the offloading of the products. And when the COVID cases started surging, the number of customers per day reduced to just a handful and even the truck drivers were reluctant in doing their job on the account of the pandemic.”

However, presently, with the number of COVID cases declining day after day, vendors are hoping that their business will go back to normal. In fact, there are ample signs of normalcy being achieved already, according to Bajracharya. The number of customers entering the market each morning is at a healthy level, and the supply of fruits and vegetables is steady as well. For them, the pandemic is a thing of the past and business is their prior focus.

(Photo: Kalimati Fruits and Vegetable Market Development Board)
(Photo: Kalimati Fruits and Vegetable Market Development Board)

“Selling fruits and vegetables is our business, or livelihood. Obviously, the pandemic was a tough period for all of us. But we cannot dwell on that. We have to move forward with an eye on the future.”

With the current levels of inflation on the rise, Bajracharya is understanding of the fact that there will be a chain reaction, which will affect the price of his products. He can also foresee how the public would react to this.

“I can tell you now itself: people won’t be happy at the prices of the fruits and vegetables!” he says with a laugh. “But it is almost completely out of our hands,” he says a bit more seriously. “We do not just list pricings based on our mood or the day, there are a lot of credible variables to it. For instance, the supply and demand, the seasons, the costs of harvesting, transportation and also the taxes we have to pay!”

He also went on to clarify that the prices at which products are sold in the Kalimati market were far more reasonable than anywhere else. The market sets a lower and upper limit for different items, and vendors have to market their items accordingly.

Bajracharya, who has seen a lot of changes in the business over the years, is hopeful for the future. However, at the same time, he understands that his success will only come if he gets support from his customers.

“I am always hoping for the best. But my success, and indeed others’, will only come from the customers. Bargaining has become so common in this business, but selling our products that low means we go into a loss. The people do not know the aforementioned variables, they think that we are selling for our own benefits only. I hope they understand our pricing scheme. At the same time, the customers who come to me every morning and bargain are the same ones who go out to eat at restaurants and hotels in the evening. They don’t argue for the prices there, and yet they hassle each rupee here. I hope they would understand our situation better, because we are dependent on them entirely.”


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